NO BIT of downpour could dampen the spirit of devotees to march from Fuente Osmeña to the Basilica del Santo Nino in the yearly “Walk with Jesus” yesterday dawn.

The penitential walk yesterday also kicked off the nine-day feast of the Santo Niño de Cebu.

Fr. Jonas Mejares, the Basilica’s rector, praised the unwavering faith of the devotees who braved the rains just to attend the penitential walk and first mass.

“Walay igong ulan nga makapakgang sa inyong pagpadayag sa inyong gugma, pagsalig ug paglaum kaniya (No amount of rain can stop you in expressing your faith, love and hope towards the Santo Niño),” Mejares said.

The Basilica’s security group pegged the crowd that attended the first novena masses at around 10,000 to 13,000 people.

At around 4:30 a.m., devotees made the two-kilometer walk from Fuente Osmeña to the downtown Cebu City to join the penitential walk.

Amidst the rain, devotees were armed with umbrellas, candles and images of the Child Jesus. Some were bringing themselves, others brought children and even their elder relatives with them.

Beyond the procession, the caroza (carriage) carrying the image of the Santo Niño rolled on, accompanied by priests from the Basilica led by Mejares.

Some devotees braved the long walk to pray that their wish be granted. Christina Bartolaba, 52, is one of them.

Bartolaba said she attended the Walk for Jesus to offer prayers for his eldest son, who is currently fighting a battle with a dreaded disease.

“I don’t care about the rain. What I care about is my son. What I’m doing is all for him. I am still hopeful that he can recover through the help of the Santo Niño,” Bartolaba said.

Another devotee, Edgardo Arenas, 29, said he joined the feast to continue a family tradition.

Arenas, a registered nurse, said his family would often join the dawn procession every year since he was small.

Now with his parents and siblings currently living in the United States, Arenas said he wants to keep the family tradition before he joins them.

For this year, Arenas had only one thing to ask to the Santo Niño.

“Nga iyang hatagan ang akong pamilya ug maayong panglawas (That he would give my family good health),” Arenas said.

Mejares, who presided the inaugural mass after the procession, sang his rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before the mass goers.

Mejares sang the song as a way to remind the faithful that the Santo Niño has never left despite the calamities that hit Cebu and the rest of the Visayas last year.

He also praised the Cebuanos for their faith remains strong amidst challenges that had rocked them.

“Tungod niini ako maka-ingon nga dinhi sa Sugbu, dinhi gayud ang sukdanan, ang tinubdan, ang duyanan sa atong pagtuong Kristiyano sa nasud natong mga Pilipino(Because of this, I can say that Cebu is the measure, source and cradle of our Chrisian belief in the Philippines)”, Mejares said.

After the procession yesterday, Basilica del Sto Niño will be opened 24 hours a day to accommodate devotees who will be attending the nine-day novena masses until Jan. 19.

The Basilica is under the pastoral care of the Augustinian Friars or the Order of Saint Augustine (OSA), not the Augustinian Recollects as earlier reported.

Crowd estimate

The Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) estimated some 45,000 participants in the Walk with Jesus yesterday dawn from the Fuente Osmeña Circle to the Basilica del Sto. Niño.

Last year’s number of participants reached an estimated 25,000.

Due to a lot of questions as to how the police estimates the crowd size, City Intelligence Branch Chief Romeo Santander showed how they come up with an estimate to justify the figures they give each year.

There are five people in every square meter. Santander said that based on their calculation, the entire lane including the sidewalk is about 15 meters wide. He said the entire stretch of the procession from the Fuente rotunda to the basilica is about 2.5 kms.

With the possible calculation, they were able to come up with an estimation of 45,000 people from the procession, including those that went inside the basilica.

Santander said that at 3 a.m. yesterday, they started deploying 150 police personnel in the procession route.

He said it was peaceful and had no untoward incidents happened.

Tradition

Chona Abellana, 53, whose husband was a cancer victim remains prayerful to Sr. Sto. Niño.

Back when she was still young and staying in Palompon, Leyte, Chona with her very religious mother and grandmother would annually visit the province to commemorate the Sinulog festival.

She grew up with no siblings, and she was directly influenced by those two closest family members to make prayer a way of life.

The Sto. Niño devotee expressed that giving praise, honor, and thanks to the child Jesus is the best way to celebrate this spiritual festivity. She strongly believes to the child Jesus’s generosity and miracles.

Chona recalled her miraculous experience last year when she was about to attend an 11 a.m. mass.

She was walking with a three-inched heeled sandals, and almost stumbled in the street outside the Basilica del Santo Niño. “It was as if someone lifted me up, and I knew it was Him,” the devotee said with tears shedding.

That instance will never be forgotten because, for her, it was such a miraculous deed to be saved by Sto. Niño. She was able to prove more to herself how good and holy the child is.

Although widowed, Chona says she is happin and has peace of mind. She said the challenge of losing her husband was not that difficult at all because of her devotion and trust to Sr. Sto. Niño.

She is continuously grateful for the many blessings she and her family has been receiving, especially their good health. For her, everything simply falls into place when you just keep your faith to Him strong.

Chona is now living in Oprra, Cebu City with her one and only daughter. (With Jessnah Brigoli, STC Intern)